Monday, August 3, 2015

Lather and lust - it's all about getting clean

Bath time.

Conjures up different images for different people, right?

For an older person, it may bring back memories of a huge washtub behind the wood burning stove, with a quilt hanging from a line for privacy. Water heating up on the stove, mother tending it so as to not let it get too hot, a bar of  "lye" soap in one's hand. If the siblings bathing before you did, hadn't left the water too dirty, feeling squeaky clean when mother wrapped a warm towel around and helped to dry you off.

For some of us mothers, it may bring to mind the incredible scent of a toddler -- clean and fresh from the tub, wrapping tiny arms around our necks and burrowing into the spot under our chin with a triumphant giggle; toddlers always seem delighted when they are able to splash as much water as possible on mother as they get out of the tub!

In the Jewish culture, guided by the Law, bathing meant something altogether different. There were times when they bathed for the sake of cleanliness, but other bath-times were prescribed by the Law. For women, the mikveh was a bath by immersion, to cleanse after a menstrual period.

Here is an excerpt that tells us more:
The mikveh is a ritual bath designed for the Jewish rite of purification. The mikveh is not merely a pool of water; it must be composed of stationary, not flowing, waters and must contain a certain percentage of water derived from a natural source, such as a lake, an ocean, or rain. Both men and women have used the mikveh for ritual purification, but it has always held special significance for Jewish women. Jewish law prescribes that women immerse themselves in the waters of the mikveh following their menstrual periods or after childbirth in order to become ritually pure and permitted to resume sexual activity. (From

The story of Bathsheba begins with a bath. A mikveh, according to our passage:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.
16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”
22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord. (II Samuel 11)

If we look back at verse 4, it mentions that Bathsheba was purifying herself from "her monthly uncleanness." That's shorthand for the fact that she'd had her period, and counted off the days after. Then she bathed. That is what is prescribed in Leviticus chapter 15, where the guidelines are laid out. We see in the article above that the mikveh was a traditional cleansing after menstruation.

Since the mikveh was a bath in which one was immersed, and needed specific sources of water, it probably was not a roof-top activity. Many artists have described the scene as Bathsheba on the roof, pouring the water over herself, perhaps assisted by a female servant. But the Bible doesn't say she was on the roof. It says David was on his roof.

We'll continue with our study next time . . . this is an interesting story! Join us!         


Austin Towers said...

I have always found the story of David and Bathsheba fascinating! I visited a mikveh when I was in Israel - I believe it was from that period, but it was a while ago now! It was inside a stone dwelling but set apart. Hugs, Caro x

Anonymous said...

very interesting !